Students have early ed options

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 6, 2004

Despite a Thursday proposal by Governor Haley Barber to focus onthe state’s early childhood education, students in Lincoln Countyhave public school options and most parents tend to use them, sayofficials.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett saidparents in that district take advantage of the preschool programsthey offer.

“We do have a day-care program at Mamie Martin (ElementarySchool) that’s tuition-based,” Barrett said. “There’s no state orlocal money spent on that.”

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The Lincoln County School District offers a similar option.

West Lincoln Attendance Center also has a tuition-based,self-funded day-care center, said Lincoln County School DistrictSuperintendent Terry Brister. However, West Lincoln is the onlycampus in the district that currently has one.

Gov. Haley Barbour on Thursday unveiled the education agenda hewill present to the 2005 Legislature. Among his proposals is a planto develop a rating system for preschool child-care centers.Barbour’s proposal came just days after a national researchorganization gave the state a poor rating in a preschool study.

Only last week, the National Institute of Early EducationResearch published its “The State of Preschool: 2004 StatePreschool Yearbook” report, which outlined the commitment stateshave made to early childhood programs.

Mississippi is one of 12 states without a state-fundedprekindergarten program. Parents here looking for a good preschoolcan pick from a variety of federally funded Head Start programs, ahandful of public school programs or private child-careprograms.

Despite these opportunities, The Associated Press reported thatan estimated 40,700 Mississippi children from the age of 3- to5-years-old are without an organized preschool choice becauseavailable programs are full.

Prekindergarten education hosted by a public school may implythat a specific state-mandated curriculum is followed, but that isnot the case in Mississippi, Barrett said.

“The simple truth is that in our day care we do try to supplythose prekindergarten skills, and I think we have some excellentinstructors in that program. But there is no state-mandatedcurriculum for us to follow,” she said. “I think there is a needfor that in Mississippi.”

Barrett said it has been proven time and again in studies byboth independent research agencies and education officials thatearly childhood is a time of high growth in a child’s ability tolearn.

“Anyone who reads the research knows that you need earlyeducation,” she said. “Students who attend early education programsare more successful. We have done some internal tracking, and thechildren who come to us through the day care seem to perform betterin the first and second grades.”

In Mississippi, however, even kindergarten is not mandated. Manydistricts, including both Brookhaven and Lincoln County, offerkindergarten classes, but parents are not required to enroll theirchildren. And once enrolled, children in kindergarten are notsubject to the rules and regulations of students from first gradethrough high school, such as truancy and mandatory attendance. Theycan be withdrawn at any time and attend each day at the parent’sconvenience.

Kindergarten in Brookhaven is a high point in educationalefforts here, Barrett said.

“I think that the fact we have such a good enrollment speaks tothe quality of education we offer,” she said.

Kindergarten enrollment in city schools is around 280 this year,up from the 244 enrolled last year, Barrett said.

Approximately 270 students are enrolled in county schooldistrict kindergarten programs, Brister said.

“That seems to be a large proportion of the children out there,”Barrett said.